Oil on canvas
46 x 60 cm
Image courtesy of the Estate of Ull Hohn and Galerie Neu, Berlin
Ull Hohn (Trier, 1960-Berlin, 1995) was a student of Gerhard Richter’s before moving to New York in 1986 to attend the Whitney Independent Study Program, which encouraged its students to insert themselves “as a sexual and class-conditioned subject into the picture.” Untitled (1993) is one of a series of kitschy landscape paintings reminiscent of the canvases of public TV painter-teacher Bob Ross. The work emblematizes Hohn’s strategy of innovating the history of painting through a process of amateurization and bringing down of inherited traditions and predecessors.
Formal tropes from Richter’s abstract series of the 1980s and 1990s are relentlessly downgraded through the formulae of a very different teacher, the TV painting instructor, Bob Ross. The smear in a Richter Abstraktes Bild turns into a little path leading up to a rustic bridge. Or the blurs from the “October 18, 1977” series, which Richter painted in 1988, are repurposed to render reflections of trees in pristine alpine lakes. While they can pass themselves off as overdetermined „blanks”, Hohn’s landscapes are surprisingly refined even in their badness, allowing for a density of reference not only to the landscapes of Albert Bierstadt and perhaps Caspar David Friedrich, but, piggybacking on Richter, to the Surrealist technique of decalcomania and the drags of Gustave Courbet’s palette knife (particularly in the woodsy scenes he churned out late in life)….[T]o use [homosexuality] as a way of decoding or controlling the work is to give into a logic which the works spill out from under. Flirting with its ability to be a receptacle for projections, this aspect of Hohn’s work should be considered in terms of debates on identity art in the early 1990s, particularly since it subtly avoids many of the traps which October critics identified with identity art around the Whitney Biennial of 1993 – not least of which being a “rush to the signified.”
Mr. Hohn, however, working from within the constricted arteries of the art world, shifts from a generalized bourgeois anomie to one that’s quite site-specific. In short, it’s hard to sell a painting these days. The spiritual product, art, fails to do its worldly business—make money. This is fairly by-the-book Gerhard Richter/institutional critique. Mr. Hohn’s personal innovation is to nudge these ossified arguments into a Beckettesque swamp of crippled initiatives. Finally, it may just be a question of killing time. Mr. Hohn’s amateur paintings…advance an amusingly perverse institutional argument: if the scrupulously trained artist cannot sustain a career in a decimated art market, then he might as well just be a Sunday painter, a painter for his own lonely pleasure.
Hohn died of AIDS in 1995.
“Post-Apocalyptic Formation 1,” Felix Gaudlitz, Vienna, 2019